Robert Spencer’s dissection of the Obama Ramadan greetings here was lucid and unrelenting, but I’d like to add some observations, stopping first to note the funniest phrase in what was, otherwise, necessarily – given the nature of the material to work with – unrelievedly bleak: “Obama then retails a few platitudes lifted straight out of a ninth-grade World Religions textbook.”
There was, to begin with the end, the final stark stop-talking-nonsense put-up-or-shut-up challenge to Obama and his speechifying crew, that is the challenge that they provide supporting evidence, chapter and verse, local habitations and names, for this assertion:
“And here in the United States Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country.”
This phrase is one more illustration of a larger problem: when it comes to Islam, Barack Obama apparently does not intend to abandon, bur rather to continue to employ, that Get-Me-Rewrite approach he used in his Cairo speech to the world’s Muslims, possibly the falsest, least-true-to-history speech ever delivered by an American president. In trying to get or be, as he likes to say (with his handful of favorite phrases, this is certainly among them), “on the right side of history” (as if, you see, history has a pre-determined “right side” and we had all “better get on it” coute-que-coute or we will be judged accordingly), he, Barack Obama, is perfectly willing to rewrite history. That is, he is willing to rewrite history in the true, and not historical determinist sense — that is, as the record of the past, as best as we can determine that record, and to make sense of it, to give the accumulated facts meaning. A little more undiluted Thucydides or Gibbon or Macaulay, and a little less watered-down historical materialism or castroesque (“history will absolve me”) derivations thereof, might be nice.
There is no “right side of history.” There are only fallible men, who should do what they can, learn what they can, prepare themselves as best they can through study of history, and observation of the men and events today, to better prepare themselves when they achieve high office, and presume, then — as we too often presume they are ready to do so — to be able to properly instruct and protect us.
No, Barack Obama must learn that his Get-Me-Rewrite approach to history, that is, what happened in the past, and his banal sense of “a right side of history” meaning History, meaning the fates, meaning the inexorable movement and development of peoples ever Upward and Onward (as the New Yorker used to put it), are inadequate to the task at hand. Obama appears to believe, ten years into what promises to be what I have frequently called here the Century of Sauve Qui Peut, that History majusculized, History in the future, is something already foreordained. And it is up to All Of Us to Get On Its Right Side, or else be condemned to “being on the wrong side,” which is to say the dustbin, of – what else? – History, and also history.
Now do you want to entrust your destiny to someone who plays so fast and so loose with the history of your own country, in the service of what he sees as a higher goal, the Rodney-King goal of Why Can’t We All Get Along? It is deemed necessary, in furtherance of that goal, to misrepresent or to lie about the Muslim “contribution” to the United States, or the supposed wonderfulness and tolerance of Muslims and Islam. This is done in the hopes of somehow winning them over. How well that has been working out, all over the world? It also manages to deceive Americans about their own reality so that they will not be properly equipped to deal with that reality. Obama and John Brennan, Special Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Terrorism, and so many others in this monumentally ignorant-and-confused-about Islam administration – though smug as all get out in its own certainties as to how to proceed — are dangerous when it comes to Islam, and to the history of their own country. And that country, this self-proclaimed Citizen of the World may need to be reminded, is the United States.
And finally, in the article above, perhaps the most important theme for practical purposes is that of Islam as a vehicle of Arab supremacism. It is a theme which could be exploited in a hundred sundry ways, if the American government — in this Administration or the next — chose to halt the squandering of men, money, materiel, in Iraq (get out, and don’t come back, and let the local games begin) and Afghanistan (get out, and only come back, from time to time, in the air, intermittently, leaving calling cards as the need arises). It could be exploited in an attempt to weaken the hold of Islam on the 80% of the world’s Muslims who are non-Arab. Some of those non-Arabs are already well aware of how the Arabs, bringing the “gift of Islam,” tried to impose a cultural and linguistic imperialism. Indeed, in Iran, where the disenchantment with Islam is widespread and growing, and the contempt for Arabs of long standing, the awareness of Arab indifference to, or even contempt for, the language, literature, history of Persia, and the national narrative includes, even emphasizes, the extra-literary feats of Persian poets, above all Firdowsi, who with his epic of the Persian kings, the Shahnameh, is believed to have helped Iran preserve the Persian language from Arab cultural imperialism. And there are others, too, intellectuals in Malaysia and Indonesia, who have occasionally written in anger about what they see as the makeover, by Muslims, of their own selves, to make them into little Arabs, with Arab names and Arab ways that so obviously come from the desire to conform to the dictates, that is in this case the Sunnah, of Islam.
The article above mocks, rightly, Obama’s nonsense, and that whole business about “a faith known for great diversity and racial equality,” which any Kurd knows to be false, as well as any Berber, or any black African Muslim in Darfur or Mali or Mauritania or for that matter in Egypt, or possibly those black African Muslims who were held as slaves in Saudi Arabia right up until 1962, when pressure from Western, non-Muslim nations, forced Saudi Arabia to formally give up slavery, thus “officially” freeing not a few, but hundreds of thousands of black slaves. Does Barack Obama know nothing about the greatest slave trade of all, the Arab slave trade in east and central Africa? Does he not know that it started centuries before, and ended — only under the pressure of the Great Powers of Europe — far more than a century later, and that the numbers of those taken away were far greater than in the Atlantic Slave Trade? Is he aware of the study, “The Hideous Trade,” of the Arab slave trade mainly devoted to the seizure, by the Arabs, of young black boys who were then castrated in the bush, and then forced by slave coffle to march to the coasts, where they would be taken by dhow to Muscat and Oman, or other ports, and then on to the slave markets of Islam — in Jeddah, in Cairo, in Damascus, in Istanbul? Does he know, or not know, that only 10% of those seized actually survived to arrive at those slave markets? Does he know that it was the Royal Navy (see J. B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1795-1880) that suppressed the Arab slave trade, by interdicting it, though the Arabs did what they could to keep carrying on that trade? And of course they did not end the practice of slavery — sanctioned by the practice of Muhammad himself, that Perfect Man, al-insan al-kamil.
Barack Obama had an absentee father from Kenya who called himself a Muslim, but, given his time and place of origin, observed a version of Islam that was a hazy and easygoing affair, not the full, undiluted version, the truest one. The truest one is the one we find all over the Arab lands and, presently (but possibly not for long) in Iran, and in such places as have no other non-Islamic identity to cling or appeal to, as in Pakistan, or in some parts even of sub-Saharan Africa where the easygoing syncretists have been replaced, thanks to sums provided by the Saudis or by Colonel Qaddafy, or by the unyielding, intolerant, and deeply-hostile-to-Infidels, by the real Islam that for so long we did not understand.
Compare, for example, the practice of the Muslim Yorubas, and their attitude toward Christian Yorubas, in Nigeria, with the practice and attitudes of the Fulani and the Hausa. Or compare the mosques now in Niger with what were there, before the Saudi money arrived, even five or ten years ago. Or compare the Muslim population in formerly largely Christian Togo, a population now being given subventions by Khaddafy. He has been supplying electronic amplification for the Call to Prayer, and building mosques, and sending many of the Christian Togolese into quiet despair over the situation, as the present dictator of the country, Mr. Son of Former Dictator, runs his Libyan-supplied Lamborghini back and forth over the few dozen miles of paved road.
And Obama has met, even made sure were placed, in his Administration, a few young smiling American Muslims, with occasional walk-on parts for such examples of adult-onset Islam as Ingrid Mattson, or the well-pleased sincere pleasers such as young Master Rashad Hussain, who tried to rewrite a little history himself in attempting to efface mention of his own past statements from a magazine article, and only fessed up when he absolutely had to, when he knew he was caught. Now I don’t know what emotional and mental desarroi lies behind the phenomenon of adult-onset Islam, and I suspect there is a long list of reasons, but I would not take Ingrid Mattson’s version of Islam, the one she offers to students at the Hartford Seminary, as anything like what C. Snouck Hurgronje or Joseph Schacht or Arthur Jeffrey, or for that matter the Sheikh Al-Azhar, or Yusuf al-Qaradawi, or the Ayatollah Khomeini, or a half-million Muslim clerics all over the world, take it to mean. And I would be skeptical of the deep knowledge of Islam to be provided by Rashad Hussain, who according to reports was apparently genuinely shocked at his first encounter with Muslims abroad, as part of his new duties as the American envoy to the world’s Muslims — a roving commission indeed — and particularly with their virulent hatred of Jews, based on Islamic texts. His surprise is telling, and if sincere, it reflects his naivete and his deep ignorance of Islam. But he is a Muslim of Indian descent who grew up in the United States, and apparently not in a community, or a society, suffused with Islam — though his own family may be another matter. His Islam, then, may not be a guide to him as to how a billion other people take their Islam, and it is unclear, even though he proudly proclaims that he is a hafiz, if the text he spent so long memorizing in Arabic meant much to him, if he understood any of the Arabic, or if on his own he has actually found out the meaning of that text, has studied the Hadith, has carefully considered Muhammad and his words and acts, and his role as the Perfect Man, for all Muslims, for all time. I am willing to believe that he really was “shocked” — and that tells you that he is not a guide to Islam, for Obama or even for himself. He does not know how to deal with those Muslims who, unlike himself, are not prepared to make compromises, are not prepared to take their Islam on the rocks, diluted by ignorance and the requirements of careerist self-interest which no doubt play a considerable role in the calculations of Rashad Hussain.
He is not the only court Muslim, either. In New York, at the Court of the Mayor, there have recently been the Raufs, Feisal Abdul and Daisy, who so cleverly courted the naÃ¯ve (there are few so naÃ¯ve as the very very rich) Mayor Bloomberg and his current public consort, deploying the usual weapons – soft voices, liquid brown eyes of great sincerity – and artfully hiding their deep of contempt for the Infidel. How this deeply impressed Mayor Bloomberg, with his own private demons from his youth, and memories of anti-Semitism. They played on that, encouraging his emotional – and intellectually confused – conflating of the victims of antisemitism in childhood Medford with today’s leading carriers of antisemitism, who in Bloomberg’s simpleminded understanding, should be seen as “the new Jews” who are themselves victims of a cruel and baseless “Islamophobia.”
And the final source of Obama’s knowledge about Islam, the one which he thinks entitles him to talk about it (I’m leaving out the smiling Arab diplomatic corps, with all those protestations about the “real Islam”) is his childhood, or three years of it, in Jakarta, Indonesia. He attended a school there, but it was a most unrepresentative school, with plenty of foreign, Christian children along with the Muslims, which meant that those Muslim parents of those children were of the most secular and easygoing kind, and so too was the atmosphere in the school. And the school was in Jakarta, the most urban and urbane part of Indonesia outside of Hindu-peopled Bali. And Jakarta is in Indonesia, which not only has been far less ferociously pure in its Islam – but under Arab influence, Arab money, the dissemination through modern technology of the full message of Islam, that appears to be changing — partly because the heritage of pre-Islamic civilizations, the Hindu and Buddhist monuments, and the pre-Islamic customs that are sweetly maintained, and even the music of gamelans that bespeak a refusal to enforce all of the prohibitions (including that on music) in Islam, as taken straight. And of course, almost all of us, including those who grew up in the Soviet Union and then grew to hate Communism – have fond memories of our childhood, as long as one or both parents were reasonably decent. Why should Barack Obama be any different? But it is up to him to realize that, and not to confuse happy childhood memories in a most unrepresentative only quasi-Muslim school, in a most unrepresentative Muslim city, in a most unrepresentative Muslim country (and at a time when secularism was at its height, and Islam most subdued), with the Islamic mainstream. It is up to Obama himself to read the texts of Islam, to spend a few days with the Jihad verses of the Qur’an, and to understand that Muslims take this seriously, that hundreds of millions of people take the Qur’an as the literal and uncreated and immutable Word of God. And it is up to Obama to read, over a few weeks, a few hundred Hadith, and to learn about the distinctions in levels of “authenticity.” It is up to Obama to read 5.32 with, instead of without, 5.33, and to come to understand how Muslims interpret that verse 2.256 (“there is no compulsion in religion”), and not to rely on the smiling plausible people, or the confused and shallow machiavels, the john-brennans, who think we can misrepresent Islam to Muslims, and have them believe it, and misrepresent Islam to non-Muslims, and convince them that their history, their civilisation, and the Islamic threat to that history and that civilization, are not what the intelligent and well-prepared know them to be.
We’ve had it with Obama’s lesson in American history, and we’ve had it with his lesson in Interfaith Healing Through Nonsense and Lies. We’ve had it. Not just the holy-rolling tea-partiers, as he and his wildest supporters may fondly believe, but many others, with their numbers swelling, refuse to participate in the farce and insist on learning at least as much about Islam as a billion other, not terribly literate, people have managed to do.
This has got to stop. Obama has got to do what Gabby Hayes once suggested: Come on in and set a spell. Set a spell, and set yourself to school about Islam. Your ignorance, your refusal to learn and to make policies on the basis of reality, is costing us trillions, and in both a figurative and a literal sense, is killing us.
It’s Reading Period. Get cracking. Do all the work you didn’t you during the regular term. Remember, soon enough it will be Exam Time. We’ll let you know when.
And then you might be able to get not on the “Right Side of History,” but — a little more modestly — on the right side of history. It’s worth the old college try.